What happens when you bring together one of the most talented contemporary jewellery designers in the UK, and 6 keen-to-learn would-be ring-makers? Arlette found out at Emma Aitchison’s ring carving workshop, held at the Arlette Gold pop-up shop.
London-based Emma Aitchison creates contemporary jewellery inspired by the climate and environment. Her mountain range ring collections depict the rolling shapes and peaks of Mont Blanc; the peaks of Everest and the Dolomites; the bumps and textures of Ben Nevis and the K2.
Tonight, Emma has laid our work stations out beautifully – we each have a block of intriguing, flat-sided, blue jewellers wax, ring sizing tape, a pencil, a Sharpie, a blade knife, some blank paper and a brown paper envelope. An array of wax carving tools (some of which look like they could be dental tools) and eight candles take centre place in the table.
Emma draws on her 12 years of jewellery-making experience to lead a fun and relaxed workshop where participants learn how to carve and sculpt jewellery wax into their “dream” ring. Tonight is a beginner’s introduction to the art of wax carving; the first step of the century-old method of “lost wax casting” where a wax model is used to create a mould, which is heated so that the wax drops out, and the void filled with molten metal. Once set, the mould is broken away to reveal - in our case - a ring.
First we size our wax to fit our fingers. We use a useful ring sizing stick both to establish our ring size, and to accurately resize the inside diameter of the wax ring models, using its tapered end and steel blade edge to file and expand the size of the hole in the wax, until - bingo - it fits.
Emma suggests we sketch out a design. The more creative types among us begin with gusto; I stare at the paper, feel completely blank and struggle to come up with anything. At all. I look through a tray of wax ring samples and decide to start with the block of wax and an open mind. If I keep it simple and don’t follow a pattern I can’t go wrong right?! “A fantastic way to discover a new collection” apparently. Ha.
We take the plunge and start carving.
We begin by removing wax from the boxy slab-shape; using our blade knife (and – as we all find out – essential rubber thimble) to cut away the corners and excess wax, carving off slivers at a time, covering us all in little shavings that look like blue snow. In the candlelight, with a glass of Butlers Gin or Kamm & Sons to hand, it starts to feel almost Christmassy.
Emma demonstrates how to use the carving and scraping tools to add various textures to the wax, scoring curving, linear forms, sweeping parabolas and straight lines. Metal tools can be heated over the candle to melt shapes, dips and curves into the wax (the candles aren’t just for ambience as I first thought), or melted wax can be dripped on to create “blobs”.
Carving wax is extremely forgiving. If you remove too much it can be built up again, by simply melting down some of the blue wax shavings dusting the table. Gaps can be filled in the same way. Textures and lines can be filed over for a new smooth surface.
I crack my ring. Twice. Emma comes to the rescue, repairing two substantial splits.
My wax starts to take on a definite ring shape. I can do this! Then – deflation. My piece suddenly looks a mess. The carefully thought out (ahem) design is lost, and I find myself staring at a loose, nebulous form. Emma encourages me to “stay with it”; I persevere and a form starts to emerge. I am over the moon with my ring that is still intact and looks “ever so vaguely” like Emma’s Ben Nevis; and decide to stop. Others continue to work away at a specific area, enhancing their designs.
Once we are happy with our designs we use sandpaper to soften the surface, and nylon tights (tricks of the trade) to buff and polish.
Our wax rings are now ready for casting into recycled silver, so we pop them in brown envelopes with a design “description” and our chosen finish. Emma tells us to expect our pieces within 2-3 weeks and assures us we will all be “pleasantly pleased”.
Whether you fancy yourself as a jeweller and want an affordable taster session, or you’re looking for a fun activity for a hen-do or corporate team building event; or if you want to design and make your own wedding bands; I thoroughly recommend this workshop, to create a one-of-a-kind ring.
Creative workshops provide artists the opportunity to bring their work to a wider audience, whilst introducing others to the joys of designing – it feels like everyone’s a winner.